You probably haven’t heard but over in the UK Manhunt 2 has been banned. Rockstar games, no strangers to controversy themselves what with Bully, GTA etc in their stable of games, have perhaps pushed too far this time.
Here in Britain, the BBFC (British Board of Film Classification) have at this time refused to certify the PS2 and Wii title. This means in effect that the game cannot be legally sold – as all media entertainment (film and games) must get a certificate in order to be sold in shops.
The BBFC had this to say about the game: “Manhunt 2 is distinguishable from recent high-end video games by its unremitting bleakness and callousness of tone in an overall game context which constantly encourages visceral killing with exceptionally little alleviation or distancing“.
Now, let’s just think about this for a moment. Yes, Manhunt 2 is about the killing. But it’s a game. Should we be trivialising violence? Well, that’s just one of the questions that can be raised about this issue. We’ll come to that in a moment though. IF we just look at the idea that there is an ‘unremitting bleakness and callousness of tone’ we then have to question why a film like Hostel got a release. Frankly I’d say that it is more squirm-worthy than a rather average violent game.
The BBFC also offered the following: “There is sustained and cumulative casual sadism in the way in which these killings are committed, and encouraged, in the game,” it added, and highlighted “the game’s unrelenting focus on stalking and brutal slaying and the sheer lack of alternative pleasures on offer to the gamer“.
So, there is sadism on offer. Can you tell me when Counterstrike didn’t offer some sadism? Here, as far as I know, Manhunt 2 is a single player experience. You’re therefore bashing a bunch of pixels. Admittedly, perhaps it’s a bit far to be using the Wii controller to emulate a stabbing, but hey – it is a game. Virtual. Not real.
The crux of the argument is that there is a potential for harm with the sale of Manhunt 2. The BBFC take this on board when deciding whether to give a certificate, and at what rating. I recall a number of films (such as I Spit On Your Grave), which were banned long ago – only to resurface years later. I doubt this would happen with games though, if simply because how fast the medium is moving.
The real issue here is how games (and other entertainment mediums more generally) can affect people. What happens when we play? Do our brains switch off for a kill-fest? Frankly, I’m no psychologist so I can’t say either way. I will say one thing though; there are more than a few murderers who have quoted the film The Matrix as a factor in their crime.
The Matrix is not a film that would instruct anyone to kill. However, if someone is on the edge, it perhaps could give a reason, a ‘trigger factor’ for his or her psychosis. The idea that the world is not real, or is somehow an illusion would have some resonance with those who have a problem with everyday life. It would give a sense of escapism.
Thus with games, the same with film. They are without a doubt fantastic forms of entertainment, but I really don’t believe that anyone will be affected by them (provided they are of age to view the content) beyond perhaps talking about what they saw/played the next day. For something to act as a ‘trigger’ there must be something going wrong in the first place.
I guess the real reason this censorship annoys me so much is that I’d almost certainly never play Manhunt 2 but I feel that as it is a game with average visuals those who would want to play it are missing out. I’m still convinced that films like Saw, Hostel and Ichi The Killer have a far greater chance of disturbing an easily influenced mind. Maybe that’s just me, but I’m off to play Ninja Gaiden – with the decapitations and blood switched on.